HUD Hosts First-Ever Summit on Housing for LGBT Seniors
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development hosted the first-ever federal summit on housing for LGBT elders in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Dec. 7.
Representatives from Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, the Center on Halsted in Chicago, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Senior Citizen Law Center, the Transgender Aging Network and the National Center for Lesbian Rights were among those who attended the forum. HUD Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research Raphael Bostic opened the gathering, while HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity John Trasviña and Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee also addressed the summit.
"Senior citizens and older adults have challenges already," Bostic told EDGE. "LGBT seniors have a particular set of challenges that make them unique and more vulnerable."
Panels focused on support services for affordable housing, discrimination and legal barriers to accessing long-term care, challenges to LGBT housing developments and policy recommendations.
The Los Angeles LGBT Center provides 80 activities each month at their Hollywood campus and other facilities throughout the metropolitan area. Up to an estimated 89,000 LGBT seniors live in Los Angeles, but up to 75 percent of them live alone.
"That type of isolation can be detrimental to them," said Kathleen Sullivan, the Center's Director of Senior Services.
Transgender seniors often face a unique set of challenges as they grow older. A report that the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released earlier this year found that trans people are nearly four times as likely to have a household income of less than $10,000 a year. As a consequence, they are more likely to have a lower retirement income and less likely to afford market-rate housing.
Trans people are also more susceptible to discrimination from doctors and other health care providers.
"We're really talking about the structural drivers that put us into affordable housing," said Regina Quattrochi, chief executive officer of Bailey House, an organization that provides affordable housing to people with HIV/AIDS in New York City. "Activism is really what we need here."
HUD has taken several steps to address housing disparities among LGBT Americans. The agency announced in June 2010 that prospective grant recipients must comply with local and state anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. HUD also unveiled a new media campaign in April designed to ensure that LGBT Americans have equal access to housing.
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced in June that his agency had proposed a rule that would bar discrimination against LGBT people who seek access to HUD-funded programs or apply for Federal Housing Authority-backed mortgages. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) advised state Medicaid programs in the same month that they could extend limited spousal protections to same-sex and domestic partners.
The Defense of Marriage Act forbids Medicaid from extending direct benefits to same-sex couples, but Donovan personally backed marriage for gays and lesbians last month.
One way that service providers hope to further address the lack of affordable housing for LGBT seniors is to build more so-called LGBT-friendly developments across the country.
The first tenant-a trans woman-moved into Triangle Square in Hollywood, Calif., in Feb. 2007. Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing has set aside 35 of the development's 104 units for people with HIV/AIDS and those who are either homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless. Seventy percent of Triangle Square's residents live at or below the poverty level.
The sluggish economy and declining real estate values have taken their toll on these developments since 2008, but Openhouse continues to move forward with plans to build an LGBT-affirming facility at the former University of California Extension campus in San Francisco that will contain at least 88 apartments for low-income seniors. The development would contain a 10,000 square foot community center, while Openhouse would also offer residents on-site case management and other support services.
"We want people to be able to move in and stay there for the rest of their lives," said Openhouse Executive Director Seth Kilbourne.
The proposed $19 million William Way Senior Residences in Philadelphia will feature 56 one-bedroom apartments in a new six-story building the city's Gayborhood. The project's funding comes from a combination of city, state and private sources. Mark Segal of the dmhFund expects the remaining $11 million will come from the sale of low income housing tax credits next spring or early summer.
"There's a need for LGBT senior housing-a need, and it can be done," he said. "The funds are out there."
Hope Barrett, senior director of public programs at the Chicago's Center on Halsted, applauded HUD for organizing the summit.
"We are definitely building momentum to bring the issues of concerns of LGBT older adults to the forefront, to make folks more visible and to make our issues more visible," she said.